On the road

Maja Hrgovic

I could write about the cockroach invasion in my hotel room in Bucharest and about the funny hotel manager who transferred me into another room, where even more cockroaches greeted me and kept me awake for three nights.

I could write about the long and boring day I spent stuck at Bergamo airport because my flight to Sofia was delayed, or about a taxi driver in Sofia who made a fool out of me by driving me around for half an hour (and making me pay for it), just to get me to a place called Zhenski pazar, which I could have reached in just a few minutes walk - if I only consulted the map more carefully.

I could write about the trip to a Romanian village, Sperieteni, where I almost broke into tears at the sight of two beautiful but completely neglected little girls whose mother went to work in Spain and never came back.

In my two-week journey to Italy, Romania and Bulgaria, there were so many heartbreaking and eye-opening things: the places I saw, the people I met, the stories I heard - it all made me question some of my deeply rooted opinions on parenting, loyalty and responsibility.

My initial compassion for mothers who went abroad to work for their families, sometimes turned into anger.

Being a parent myself - and, what's more, a mother who left her baby girl at home to work and travel throughout the region - I couldn't understand how someone could so easily turn their back on their children (and according to some ‘Soros’ research on the topic, there are thousands of parents in Romania who have decided to follow their European dream and abandon their children to do so).

On the other hand, during my research I developed a deep emphathy towards parentless children who, somehow manage to overcome the sad feelings of rejection, that can ruin one's self-confidence forever. (And, again according to that ‘Soros’ research, more than 170,000 children in Romania are left to deal with that challenge).

Since I'm keeping the best of my road experiences for the story, I'll skip the details about the trip to Varshets, a village near Sofia, inhabited mostly by men whose wives work in Italy and Spain, many as carers for the elderly.

I'll just say that I had so much fun in Varshets, and that I spent whole day in a crazy little cafe called "Bor-Cvor" (whatever that means), talking with the lonely husbands over a glass of beer... And then another glass.

And another. And another... It was strange (I mean, pleasantly strange) to meet men who are - diametrically opposite from my expectations - not full of macho-patriarchal ideas: they talk openly about their loneliness, about their wives' sacrifice, about the difficulties in raising children by themselves.

Still, women breadwinners are those who suffer most.

A series of encounters I had with them in Rome, Florence and Milan made me realise the depths of their emigrant hardship: with just one exception, they all told me about the native Italians looking down on them, hating them even, because they are perceived as intruders and barbarians.

They have all been subject to insults, at least once.

And the jobs they do are always socially and financially unattractive: they work as kitchen help in restaurants, cleaner and maids in hotels, babysitters and carers.

Diana (32) from Vraca, Bulgaria, works in "Tavola Calda" restaurant in Rome, near Termini station. At weekends she babysits for a wealthy Italian family, and twice a week she cleans a lawyer’s offices. With those jobs she manages to earn up to €800 extra a month, and sends it back to her family.

"You know how it feels to raise someone else's baby when you had to leave your own miles away? It makes you want to die. And that contemptuous looks I get in the shop, and even in the house I work in... The only thing that keeps me from packing my suitcase is knowing that the money I earn will get my son well educated, healthy and happy," says Diana.

I visited her hometown when I was in Bulgaria. It was a piece of the puzzle that helped me understand why she needed to leave: depressing, filthy streets, a pervasive smell of urine, packs of skinny dogs wandering around, drunkards yelling at passers-by, women looking tired - it all screams: "Leave while you can!"

Fellow Bio

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Maja Hrgovic

Maja Hrgovic from Zagreb, Croatia, currently works for daily newspaper Novi list as a journalist in the culture section

Topic

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